Todd and I Do It Again, Part 2

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I woke up the next morning after another relatively early night, and luxuriously shaved my legs with Todd’s razor. Before you make assumptions about me – he told me to, after he shaved his face, because he’s loving like that and not because I’m a selfish bitch.

There was a great deal of noise going on above us, and it didn’t take long to remember the restaurant and bar were directly above us. Like chairs sliding across hardwood floors, vacuuming early in the morning, and then several times at night I heard something drop and roll across the floor – like dropping a marble on a hard surface. WTH was it??

Anyway. Woke up feeling great after 17 miles of bike riding. A little soreness on the bottom, but a hell of a lot less than last year when I couldn’t sit down for 3 days. My left knee, the troublemaker, was aching a bit but okay. We walked the mile to Dumser’s for breakfast again.

It was so hot and the humidity was ridiculous at 9 a.m. We walked hand in hand a bit until our hands got too sweaty, pointing out condos we liked and contemplating what it would cost to buy one with the family to share. The occasional breezes off the ocean that broke between the buildings felt divine.

We spent a couple hours on the beach, people-watching and enjoying the breeze coming off the ocean. I was looking forward to cracking open Another Roadside Attraction, by Tom Robbins. **

We decided to catch an early dinner at Bull on the Beach. The bus driver drove like a bat out of hell and then hit the brakes hard just seconds before the stops. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating that the first stop hurt my neck. As more people boarded, watching their reactions to this ride was pure entertainment. Anyway, we sat at the bar again and shared a roast beef sandwich – delicious! Beef and beer. What could be better?

It was still fairly early, and breezy, and so we decided to play a round of Pirate mini-golf. I got a hole-in-one and I won. I don’t mean to gloat, but I’m doing it, because Todd wins just about everything.

We decided to go sit out on the rooftop bar at the hotel, rather than go out somewhere. We took the elevator to the 8th floor and a rather empty restaurant and bar, and waited nearly four minutes without so much as glance from the waitress adding up her checks right there. Finally, when asked about sitting on the rooftop deck, she said it was “kinda windy” and we’d get “faster service if [we] went to the bar.” Which turned out not to be true, since the bartender couldn’t be bothered to take an order from us. There were exactly eight people in the bar.

But the good news is that we discovered the source of the falling sounds – a wooden shuffleboard game using little metal balls, and it’s directly above our room – and we ended up walking out and discovering a better place to have drinks.

Ropewalk, a popular restaurant on the bay with long tables, comfortable seating around fire pits, cocktail tables along the water, and two empty seats at one of the bars for Todd and me. Great bartender and great drinks! Probably drank more than necessary.

Thursday

We got up to watch the sunrise on the beach, as we did last year. We skipped breakfast and just had coffee in the room, hopped the bikes and went to see Holly for lunch. I ordered a Greek salad and slice of pizza that was so good I could’ve eaten the whole pizza. My knee was acting up, alternately clicking and aching, but we continued to ride.

We had dinner at Higgins Crab House down on 28th. I had a crab cake that was loaded with shell. And when I say shell, I mean shell. As in. Every. Single. Bite. The waiter offered to get me a new one, but I wasn’t interested in eating crab cakes anymore. I ate the fries and the coleslaw it came with, while he disappeared to talk to the manager. He came back and told us he’d take the charge off the bill, and then picked up my plate while I was eating the fries and took it away.

Todd suggested we walk the boardwalk, but by this time I was in crippling pain from my left hip to my knee to my ankle. It was excruciating and difficult to walk, so we took the bus down to the inlet. I stopped in the restroom there before we got on the boardwalk and discovered the cause of my lower back pain and thank God there was one thing I always have with me.

I hobbled beside Todd like an invalid as we passed through a thickly crowded area on the boardwalk around Thrasher’s fries and Kohr’s ice cream, and all of sudden something hit the top of my head like an atomic bomb. It happened so fast I ducked my head from the impact and O.M.G. A fucking seagull shit right on the top of my head. Out of 300 people. Fuckers.

Todd cleaned up the top of my head and was careful not to crack a smile, and we pressed on even though I was so pissed all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel and take a shower. About four or five blocks later I started to lighten up. We stopped at the Brass Balls, snagged a table on the boardwalk, and ordered two frozen concoctions and a plate of nachos and all was well with the world again. Great waiter!

Last Day

Todd impatiently decided to start loading up the car while I was still getting myself together for check-out, and at some point I realized he’d been gone a while. He came back and told me he’d dropped the box containing the coffee maker, mugs, some glass purchases we’d made, and the magnum of wine we’d never opened. Everything survived the fall except the wine, which exploded on impact. The car smelled like a winery all the way home.

We went to breakfast at the Dough Roller on the boardwalk, since we’d bought some artwork the night before and had to pick it up. I ordered a western omelet that I could not request without tomatoes; the alternative was to “customize” one with all the same ingredients minus the tomatoes that would cost two dollars more than the western. Bullshit.

Todd became edgy shortly after this couple was seated behind us and said we’d have to move tables because the woman had “nervous leg syndrome” and she was shaking the bench their backs shared. I offered to switch sides with him, figuring I have a higher level of tolerance than he does, but damn girl! After the last 24 hours, all I could do was laugh.

The last stops made: a candy shop for peanut butter fudge and one caramel apple for Miss Veruca, the art shop where our paintings were waiting, and Fischer’s Popcorn. And homeward bound.

** For the uninitiated, Tom Robbins is one of a kind. I highly recommend starting with Jitterbug Perfume (my all-time favorite), or Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates.

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Todd and I Do It Again

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The truth is, we do it every year. Sometimes several times a year.

We went on vacation, and returned to Ocean City, Maryland a couple of weeks ago. We rolled in late afternoon on a Monday, checked into our 7th floor room (remember this detail – it figures in later) at last year’s hotel which – by the way – is nothing special but the rooms are upgraded and clean and affordable. We got the last parking spot under cover and left the car there until the day we checked out.

We met my longtime friend Holly and her husband for dinner on the boardwalk. Afterward we walked the boardwalk a short distance to the Old Time Photo place, where Holly and I recreated the Flashback photo we had done in Wildwood several decades ago.

Holly and I giggled through the entire thing, from breath-stealing corsets to our middle-aged climb up to the top of the bar (we were saloon girls), to the stiff posture we had to hold while they snapped photos. It was a LOT easier when we were 15. The staff was terrific, referring to the original often to get it exactly right, and never missed a beat with helping us old broads up and down from the bar top.

We grabbed one of the last tables outside at Shenanigans for dinner. The evening weather was perfect. I had a margarita and then a Dogfish 60, which was all I needed. I’m not much for drinking these days. We were back in the room by 11, with me falling asleep on Todd’s shoulder as we watched Merlin on Netflix. So this is what middle-age looks like. Unencumbered by little children, we’re still asleep before midnight.

Tuesday

We decided to walk to breakfast at Dumser’s Dairyland, which was about a mile walk. The omelets are killer. I had my favorite, a spinach, mushroom, and feta omelet and Todd had a meat-filled omelet. Home fries were perfect and toast soaked in butter – a cardiac patient’s delight – and I’m not sorry. Dumser’s has been around since 1939 and still retains the charm of yesteryear.

We stopped at Sunsations – a chain-mecca of all things beachy – on the walk back to buy sunscreen and a hat for me, since all the errands and leisurely time spent before we drove down didn’t afford me a memory for necessities. I also forgot soap (which Todd had thankfully packed) and a razor, so I’m currently growing leg hair until I can get to a CVS.

Todd bought me a new gel seat for my bike and installed it before we came down, hoping it would ease the pain of sitting down after a long ride. Well, he was partially right. More on that later.

We took the bikes out and rode down to the boardwalk at 1st Street – our friend Jonathan told us to grab a slice and a beer at Tony’s Pizza for him. The humidity and the sun were tough on the ride, and we both wore the wrong shirts, and so arrived soaked to the skin in sweat. I don’t mind sweat when I’m working out, but it’s a whole ‘nother story when I’m sitting down on a vinyl seat in a restaurant.

The pizza slices were old (translation: not fresh) and neither of us wanted a beer at this point (sorry Jonathan). I had a birch beer instead – a childhood favorite – which was ice-cold and delicious, and we split a Caesar salad. I’ve never had a Caesar salad that was covered in bacon bits and onions, but it was good, so whatever. Our waitress, who was pretty much par for the course in this overcrowded beach town, disappeared for long periods of time and at the end we waited and waited for her to return just so we could ask for a check. It seems unfortunate somehow, but every experience we have either rules out a repeat visit, or gets added to the favorites list.

We walked the boards and stopped in a shop to buy a couple of dry shirts. Todd bought a tank and changed on the boardwalk, because he’s a guy and can do that. I chose not to change – a) because there was nowhere to change and I’m not getting arrested at 48 and b) I knew I’d just soak through that one too.

On the ride back we stopped at Bull on the Beach for a beer. It was early enough that there were several open seats at the rectangular bar. The a/c felt divine and I made my way to the restroom intending to change my shirt. I peeled it off and then realized, duh, my bra was soaked too. And then it dawned on me that the bra would just make wet circles on the dry t-shirt, which is way worse than just sitting in a wet t-shirt, and I couldn’t exactly take my bra off because no one wants to see that. Well, maybe the group of middle-aged men doing shots on the other side of the bar, but my husband isn’t so far gone from his tough guy days so – bad idea. So I had to put that wet shirt back on. I looked around for one of those air dryers, because I was seriously going to try to dry myself somewhat (hey – Madonna did it), but this place doesn’t have those.

Back at the bar I ordered an IPA – it seems you’re not getting too many craft choices anywhere and so I had a pint of Dogfish to Todd’s Guinness – and Todd ordered wings, which were really good. The bartenders were really friendly – which was a big plus because many of the patrons seemed like regulars and we weren’t treated any differently.

Dinner was planned later for Mackey’s, strategically around sunset, and I insisted we wait for an outside, on the water, table and we weren’t disappointed. We got a front row table to the sunset which, although cloudy and not as spectacular as sunsets past, was still beautiful and tranquil even with children playing in the water nearby.

They always play God Bless America at sunset, and this year it seemed more poignant than ever.

 

Cabo San Lucas – The End

Chapter 3

January 19, 1991  Sábado

My baja California trip is over. I’m sitting now in the Phoenix airport, sometime around 5 p.m. Only SEVEN hours until I board my next flight – to Philadelphia. Customs went okay – not quite as bad as Greece was. I thought I’d found the perfect spot to plant myself – game room, snack bar, lounge, Haagan Daas, gift shop – until the snack bar closed. At five o’clock. Mom would stow her bags and venture out into Phoenix. I thought about it for a split second, but I’m way too hungover.

I was awakened this morning at the ungodly hour of 7:30, from another bizarre dream, by the ever crowing rooster, a pesky mosquito that tried to fly up my nose, and a need for the bathroom. A couple of old Mexican women came by later, selling Bibles door to door. I don’t know if the Bibles are in English though.

Yesterday Mom and I went shopping and I bought a silver bracelet and a pair of earrings. We ate lunch afterward at the Giggling Marlin, which is probably my favorite place. Mom ordered a Mexican coffee, and when I took a sip something flew up the straw and into my mouth. A fucking fly!! She said I went white, and both she and the waitress had a big laugh at my expense for swallowing a “mosca!” It was NOT funny.

We walked around town a bit and stopped at the Rio Grill. We were having a good time, drinking cerveza (lots of cerveza), a live band started to play, and we ended up making new friends. Kelly, about my age, was a tall, model-like blonde who was super nice.  John was a 40-ish retired boatman from Southern Cal who really liked mom a lot. He introduced me to Eric, 24 and very very cute, who he himself had just met that day. Eric told me he was from Montreal, traveling around.

The four of us decided to go to Squid Roe to party some more. John was a trip! Eric and I danced forever, cervezas in hand. John said he’d introduce me to Tico Torres, who was there, though it never happened. Finally left there sometime around 3 and, suddenly hungry, mom and I bought these killer hamburgers from a food vendor right outside the bar. I tallied my drinks and it amounted to about a half-case of beer.

Which is why I’m sitting in the Phoenix airport now, horribly hung over and trembling from dehydration, sporting shorts, a minor tan, and my motorcycle jacket and wishing I didn’t have over 6 hours left until I can board some plane that will only take me as far as Philly. Then I have to figure out how to get to 30th Street Station before dawn to catch the train that will take me home to New York. I’ll finally be home, just 18 hours from now.

It was a great trip though. Anything but a tourist trap, it was charming in its simplicity and the lack of obnoxious crowds. Cabo is the antithesis of Cancun, the only other Mexico destination I have to compare it with. It’s like night and day. They’re building this enormous luxury hotel on Boulevard Marina (the main street running through town), currently just a shell, and it makes me wonder how these high rise hotels will change this sleepy little town.

Cabo San Lucas – Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Two days later.

I didn’t feel too hot on the flight to San Jose del Cabo and there was this very strange man sitting next to me, and then he was on the same bus to Cabo San Lucas. Gave me the creeps. It was dark when I arrived so I didn’t see much, and of course I was flooded with anxiety that mom wouldn’t be at the bus station when I arrived.

We go to bed really early here – like between 8 and 9:30 and get up about those same hours in the morning. Twelve hours of sleep! It’s actually much cooler than I expected. We sleep with our mass of blankets and in the same clothing we sleep in at home this time of year. However, during the day the sun is quite hot.

The house is nice – it’s not a luxury villa, but more like a home we’d actually live in if we lived here. It’s roomy, with high ceilings, but not too large for us. We each have our own bedroom. There are tiled floors throughout. The living room is cozy; waist-high shelves run the length of one wall and are filled with books. The kitchen, to the right of the living room, has everything you need to prepare your own meals. We share a large bathroom which, lucky me, is right next to my bedroom. There’s a patio off the kitchen with a charcoal grill, and chairs for sitting.

We walked into town yesterday and had lunch at the Giggling Marlin. I had this killer chicken burrito. We shared an order of french fries. Mom had soup and a margarita. I hear they’re exceptionally strong here. One is enough to put you eye level with the table.

We walked around after lunch and saw some incredible hotels, some under construction, found an open-air market with silver jewelry and tableware. Everything is pretty cheap here. Right now it’s about 3,000 pesos to the dollar, which sounds like a lot – especially when you’re buying orange juice for 8,500 pesos. We also went to the supermercado for food.

The village is cute. Small, but cute. Very quiet. Not crowded. Nothing like the “other” Mexico I’ve been to (Cancun). Everything is dirt here – practically no paved roads – so there is a thin brown dust that coats everything. Wipe off any plates or glassware on the restaurants’ tables. There are scruffy dogs that lie in the dirt everywhere, outside the restaurants, in the streets – and in the heat of the day. Makes you wonder, are they dead or alive?

As we made our way back to the house on one of the side streets, a huge truck full of day laborers rumbled by, blasting I’ve Got the Power. This struck me funnier than anything I’d seen so far. These trucks come and pick the men up every morning at a location just down the street from our house. Dozens of them waiting, pile into the back of an enormous truck. In the late afternoon, they return, dusty and sweaty and dirty. They, unlike their American counterparts, are polite and friendly, not catcalling balls of testosterone.

We met two guys on the way – one from British Columbia and the other from Sacramento – who’ve been living here for several months. They helped carry our groceries back and talked for a bit longer. I don’t know how they knew each other, but this place is sorta like that. People just come and hang and get lost.

The bugs here are abundant, and everywhere. We have teeny tiny ants here and there and various flying insects. And, since I’m mosquito bait, you can well imagine I’m starting to look like a malaria victim. And they itch like hell…

The man who owns this house left a guest log for everyone who stays here to write in. It is hands-down one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. There are hilarious anecdotes, stories, a lot of drunken reports, and advice about the house, the people, the town, and even the car. Yes, the house comes with a car, and there are various accounts of it in the book; however, it broke down on mom’s way to pick me up and we won’t get it back until tomorrow. Walking is nice, but unlike New York, it loses its appeal after a few days.

One entry was a list of dos and don’ts titled, Uptonian Advice for Good Times in Cabo (or, “safety hints”). To give credit where credit is due, his name was John Upton, and was entered in the log between May 12 and May 18, 1990:

X marks the spot

Fat cats from hell bite – beware

Beach cruisers and tequila equal pain

Avoid security force at Sol Mar Hotel, especially when naked

Stay off the roof – you’ll know soon enough. Have a beer.

Bacardi stings less than alcohol and cleans a cut just as good

Never turn your back on a wave, especially at 3 a.m.

Giggling Marlins also swallow (Have absolutely no idea what this means, and don’t think I want to)

Don’t take any money with you to Blandro because after a few shots and beers you may be tempted to spend it.

Run! if you hear a local mumble something like “seestir.”
Seems like sound advice, while raising a few more questions. A lot of entries mentioned the proliferation of wild dreams, blaming it on the environment, desert sun, and unadulterated tequila. I myself have had more than a fair share of trips down the rabbit hole in my sleep.

Last night I dreamed that I caused an argument with this girl and her mother and then the girl came back to kill me. And she almost did before I woke up. Fell back to sleep again and was running through Central Park with Sam, something about showing him the scenic route, and then suddenly I was at the mall with E who was looking for a sweater she wanted that was actually pretty ugly, and then I woke up again with a terrible pain in my stomach because I had to pee.

*****

About 9 p.m. now, although I don’t really have a clue of what time it really is. We started to cook dinner around 7:30 – fired up the little grill outside on the back patio and grilled Mom’s marinated chicken breasts and ate them with a small salad. It must be the weather – I don’t feel very hungry here.

 

Cabo San Lucas – Chapter 1

January 11, 1991

It’s not quite 8 a.m. yet. I’ve been up since five. I’m on the plane to Pittsburgh, ready for takeoff. I’m not quite as nervous as I thought I would be, although this is only the beginning of a long trip which won’t end until twelve hours from now. We’re expecting 3-6 inches of snow here in Philly, though looking out my window now I don’t see any flakes. The sky is gray and white.

*****

In the Pittsburgh airport now, waiting to board my next plane. Interesting group of people on this plane. This is flight 9 to Phoenix. Arizona. I’ve never been anywhere near Arizona.

I love the feeling of the plane when it takes off – racing down the runway, thrusting your body against the seat. The chair absorbs you, cradles you. The flight attendant is handing out blankets. Blankets. I’m sweating. It’s raining lightly here in Pittsburgh, with a little slush on the runway. My hands are trembling from that coffee I had back in Philly.

Hello Pilot! He’s talking to us now, in that slow droning voice that sounds like he’s been smoking weed in the lounge. They have television monitors for instructions – too funny! I’ve never seen anything like this. Some people are cracking up.

*****

Later…

The pilot just informed us we are directly over Kansas. You should see the ground below. It’s amazing – looks like a giant marble floor. Or a marble chess board. Sam would like that. He’s asked me a dozen times already if I play chess, and my answer never changes. He wanted me to go skiing over break. Does he even remember that I don’t ski?

This past week I was sick, and only got sicker, which prompted me to go to the doctor. Who looked in my ears, nose, and throat, and told me I had a minor sinus infection. The inside of my nose is “pretty irritated,” he said, LIKE I didn’t know that already. It’s fuckin raw is what it is! I had a nosebleed in New York, which I forgot about but then why the hell would I want to remember that?

I had lunch with E yesterday at Ridgley’s. Everybody turned and stared when we walked in. I guess they’ve never seen a motorcycle jacket before. I had forgotten my tissues before leaving the house, so I had to carry my roll of toilet paper in from my car. The waitress looks at it and then asks me did I carry that in with me? It’s a goddamned roll of toilet paper, freaking Scott tissue which is what – 25 cents a roll? I thought E was going to wet herself.

*****

I’m sitting now in the Phoenix airport, and I just figured out why my hand is shaking. My bag is so heavy that it’s hurting my hand, which is all red and swollen. My arm is killing me. I don’t really feel like exploring right now. The headset from the in-flight movie gave me a headache, that I know isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s about 1:30 and I have six more hours on this God-forsaken trip before I actually get where the hell I’m going. At least three more, before I can board my last plane.

Arizona looks beautiful – when we began our descent, the view was just exquisite. Rolling mountains and valleys. Really incredible shades of color – soft browns turning darker, little green peaks, I even spotted a snow-capped mountain in the distance.

I’m sitting near an escalator and two workmen just walked by. The one says to the other, “see this? You’re gonna like this. Sal just oiled that thing up.” A lot of men around here remind me of Jose. Which is funny. Just wait til I get to Mexico.

I was sweating like a whore in church, so I ran to the bathroom and changed my shirt. Wild fuckin bathrooms – the toilets flush themselves. It’s bizarre. I just stood up and was looking for a way to flush the toilet and all of a sudden it’s like the psycho thing read my mind. Scared the shit out of me. And get this, the faucets are all automatic too. Welcome to the future.

*****

Soldiers! Everywhere. I walked down this corridor to my gate and passed dozens of them, likely being deployed to Saudi Arabia. Young too – at least, they looked younger than me. A certain sadness fell over me, as I considered where they were going and the fact that some may not return. Uncomfortable and feeling helpless, I averted my eyes from most of them. I heard something about sending more troops. Christ. Are there any left? I think they started calling in the Reserves now. Saddam Hussein’s deadline is January 15.

I have no idea what time it is, only that it has to be somewhere near four. My gate has just been changed to B7, two gates away, so I had to pick up this incredible load and move. Up until now there were only two old couples waiting with me. Now there’s many more people. They’re all showing up now, and the board still says “Omaha,” so they’re all wondering if it’s the right gate.

 

Red Cups and BK and Bud Lite, Oh My! — A Cycling Tour Through Rural America

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Todd and I have taken up riding again, in a last ditch effort to get fit and lose weight before we just give up and lie on the couch drinking beer and watching Family Feud. So far we’ve had two rides – the first was a 13.6-mile cycle around our town, and the second almost 9-mile was a grueling hilly ride.

Twice my chain came off because it’s my bike and I shifted down too far. The next thing I know I’m spinning my wheels in place like a stationary bike, except this bike isn’t made for that and I was on a hill going nowhere and about to fall over.

Todd performed the first fix. He rides in front of me because apparently I’m too slow for him so the second time he was already at the top of the hill and I whispered fuck! before I decided to fix it myself. Check another item off the bucket list I haven’t made yet.

After spending so many years running and then struggling to run with injuries, cycling is a welcome change. Same satisfaction, less stress on the joints. Plus you can get places. We live in the country so there’s no shortage of beautiful scenery – green acres and rolling landscapes, farms and old houses, new houses and historic places.

A country ride is full of fresh air and the wind rushing past your ears, the call of birds, buzzing insects, the smell of cut grass, the occasional monstrous new home rising starkly against the back drop of quaint ranchers and old farmhouses, and… dogs. The roads are just wide enough for two cars and there’s always some asshole in a monster truck whipping by, close enough to feel the heat of the exhaust.

There’s no shortage of Bud Lite bottles. I could count a case from my house out and back. Empty BK and McDonald’s containers, which makes absolutely no sense to me since there are no stores around these roads.  One can only assume these were thrown out the window on the way home. Really? Can’t wait to get home and put it in the garbage can? At least I find a trash can for the contraband, losing the evidence before I get home so no one knows. (For the record, dumping the bags before I get home never works anyway. Veruca has the nose of a bloodhound and Todd insists the odor lives in the car’s interior fibers.)

An entire newspaper was spread over the front border of someone’s lawn. I saw a pair of work gloves (several yards from each other), a shoe (why is there always just one shoe?), a shirt (don’t even want to know), car parts (in rural America, this is par for the course).

Timing of the ride is everything, depending on which way the wind is blowing, the smell of manure or some other fertilizer slaps you in the face – the assault on the senses most unwelcome. No matter growing up in the country, and living around farms for the last several years – I’ve never, ever gotten used to the smell.

Otherwise, there are hundreds of photo-worthy sites… old schoolhouses and dilapidated old buildings, rusty old farming equipment, crumbling stone walls, even the dozens of foreclosures seen around the area – and yes, sadly, there are many – lend their own interest in the overgrown green around them, the dusty and darkened windows, the mystery of who lived there and what happened to them.

The rural bike ride is both athletic and leisurely – the burn in your legs as you push up the steepest hill, the thrill of a brakeless run down the opposite side. It is peaceful and introspective, even as you share it with someone. The lingering danger of riding on any roadway where strangers must be trusted to pay attention and not to be texting, or worse – intoxicated – is ever present, as well as the dogs defending life and property. It is triumphant – as you coast into your driveway knowing that you set out to accomplish a goal and you did it. Even better when you can do it with your better half – strengthening the bond and connection with shared experiences.

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Stone stairs to nowhere

Photo copyright TKA and The Tara Chronicles, 2017

 

The Weekend, Food, and the Apocalypse

The 4th of July weekend, they call it, even though the 4th doesn’t actually fall on a weekend this year, but is in fact on Tuesday. But the fireworks and explosives junkies don’t let a little detail like that derail their plans to blow shit up and generally disturb whole neighborhoods and animals alike. FIVE days of fireworks in my neighborhood.

I am fairly certain the new residents of the only house that was still for sale were responsible for the majority of them, which doesn’t bode well for our community or their reputation. The former residents’ three boys earned a reputation for illegal and occasionally dangerous shenanigans. When they finally moved away, even the trees breathed a sigh of relief.

Anyway. I picked the kids up Monday morning with plans to go to my dad’s for the day. It wasn’t even 9 a.m. yet, so I went to my mom’s to pick up Todd’s table saw – that he’d left in her driveway on Friday. Just drove away and forgot it. We hung out with mom for a bit and the neighbor’s little Shih Tzu came over – the cutest little thing ever who might be cuter if she actually gave a shit about anything but treats. Veruca gave her a piece of Pupperoni and a whole one to Moses, my mom’s Great Pyrenees, which he held in his mouth like a cigarette and little Tessie hopped over to him and brazenly bit the end off of it.

We left mom’s and picked up hoagies at Wawa for later, and then went to McDonald’s for breakfast. Opac and I were hungry; Veruca had had breakfast before I picked her up but she was suddenly hungry again and stepped up to order her food: hot cakes and hash browns with a Mocha Frappaccino. It would seem that Todd’s luck with food places of any kind is wearing off on V – they made her the wrong drink but caught it before handing it over, and then she found a hair in her hot cakes which I’m fairly sure belonged to Tessie the Shih Tzu.

I watched the employee who made the first coffee drink lose her shit behind the counter and throw her cap down on top of the bagging station, which – I don’t know – seems like some sort of health code violation, all because the other woman told her the drink was wrong. She stalked around the counter and later out by the drink station, still hatless, bitching to some guy standing with her about I-don’t-know-and-don’t-want-to-know-what. She was angry. And big. And made eye contact with me in the midst of her rant, which somehow made me feel more uncomfortable than I like to be, that early in the morning.

Meanwhile, back at the pool, the three of us swam for an hour or so, played “colors” and some saturated Nerf football. We took a break for lunch, where V discovered that the hoagie she ordered had lettuce and onions on it and OH MY GOD they ruined it and now she can’t eat it. Really, though – HOW does one screw up an order when one is reading the order from a screen???

My wayward brother returned around that time and gladly took the poisoned hoagie. I unclogged the downstairs toilet because apparently kids can clog toilets anywhere. Dad came outside and we chatted for almost an hour, which was wonderful since with his work and so much traveling we haven’t seen each other in months, except for Father’s Day. He and stepmom just returned from Cabo. We compared our experiences since I was there long before there were luxury hotels and condos, possibly even predating the drug cartels.

Yesterday, on the actual 4th, Todd and I took my mom and the kids to the place on the water we’d gone to two days earlier. It was crowded but we got a table on the deck under cover, and enjoyed steamed clams, shrimp, crabcakes, double cheeseburgers and chicken fingers and fries. Opac ordered crabby fries too – French fries smothered in crab dip and melted cheese – which Todd was keen to try until it was delivered to the table with chopped tomatoes on top. (Reminder: he’s allergic. Reminder: shit like this happens every time he goes out.) We got a replacement because WHO puts chopped tomatoes on cheese fries, and our server was awesome and brought us one right away.

It was breezy and warm there by the water, until the sky opened up and folks were scattering to get under cover and away from the sides where the rain drizzled down over tables. We were fortunate to be seated in the middle. Still had a view, but it was very dry. Well, dry but for the sweating margaritas and a frozen one that took a nosedive onto my feet under the table.

No 4th of July is complete without a round of Clue (it was Peacock in the bedroom with a dagger, by the way) and comforting the two dogs during the apocalypse of fireworks coming from every direction. I’m telling you seriously, not one creature, great or small was spared. Even the frogs were hollering.

 

 

Sometimes Life is A Country Song

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My life doesn’t always read like a country song, but when it does…

***If you’re pressed for time, I’ve made it easy for you – just read the bolded phrases.

That snow storm that cut my San Francisco trip short was heavy and became solid ice hours afterward. Several days later as the sun melted it off the roof of the house – a sheet of it fell on, and caved in, the hood of my new car.

The new kitten we adopted turned out to have a polyp on his larynx – a catastrophic mass which would involve resectioning his digestive and respiratory tracts and likely a tracheotomy for a while – and I was forced to make the worst decision a person can ever make, while he was in the OR. I scream-cried for an hour after the surgeon and I ended our call. The bill – all totaled – $1800.

I started a new job – the highlight of my Spring – a part-time position with the world-renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It’s going to be 2 days a week, but I have been training 3 days a week in the office, and I have to spend a week in Philadelphia in Epic training. That’s Epic training, not training that is epic.

My anxiety has topped the charts over working all these extra hours in the midst of all this other personal stuff, having to cover Veruca’s schedule with school and softball when I can’t readily be there, and now having to drive to Philly every morning at the break of dawn and not getting home until 7. I don’t do Philly. Send me to New York any day. Although technically my “home” city (my parents took me there A LOT, growing up), I get lost in Philly with its labyrinth of streets named after trees that confuses me.

My 92-year-old grandfather passed away a couple of weeks ago. Todd and I drove up last weekend for the memorial service, but had to cut our time short due to another commitment in Baltimore in the evening (see below).

Opac had oral surgery and won the award for Worst Patient Ever. I took him to a longtime client of ours, because I trusted him absolutely with my precious offspring. Opac presented himself to this like a tough footballer with a bring-it-on attitude, that is, until about an hour into our ride home when the pain kicked in and he was hollering and swearing and crying. I had to stop for the Percocet and prayed they’d hurry up on it, while Opac sat in the car with his stupid fucking ice pack that isn’t helping at all texting me in a panic because I hadn’t come out after 5 minutes. No one likes to see their kid in pain and be helpless to fix it, and he brought me to tears.

The Percocet took an eternity to kick in – I swear to God I am not exaggerating – well over an hour before O stopped moaning. And believe me, he’s loud. The level of stress ranks right up there next to the 5 days I spent at CHOP when Veruca was diagnosed with diabetes. He wanted to die, FML, wanted to hang himself, and at one point told me I’d see him at his funeral in two days. (This news, while disturbingly and inappropriately funny, did not go over well given the current state of family affairs.) I literally dove into a bottle of wine the minute Todd walked in the door after work.

Roughly ten days after granddad passed, my uncle passed suddenly and unexpectedly. It was a shock to everyone, and my cousins have been struggling with the news and planning a service. There’s more related drama, but out of respect for them I will not mention it. Meanwhile, my grandmother had to be told and, as expected, it was not for the faint-hearted. We were seriously concerned there would be a third funeral.

After grandad’s memorial, Todd and I raced home for a wardrobe change and then we were off to his college’s annual Gala – first time for me. It was a great time! I met some new people, caught up with others. We bid on some auction items and won a piece of artwork now hanging in our living room and, though I really wanted the Michael Kors bag, I bowed out of the bidding war for that once it topped $200. The bad part of the evening was that I was drinking vodka+cranberry’s, against my better judgement after I realized it was Absolut they were pouring, and I got very drunk and very sick afterward. I’m fairly certain it was a reaction to all the stress I’ve been under, because I’ve had more to drink than this before and didn’t come close to feeling this way.

I spent the entire next day on the couch feeling like I wanted to die. The kids came home later that night from their dad’s. Opac hit a wall the day before with his pain level and there was no more Percocet, and my ex had to call the doctor – who explained to him that he was not getting more Percocet and he needed to take an OTC cocktail of ibuprofen and Tylenol that would help, along with some other topical instructions. Ex texted me his disappointment (read= doctor was so rude and cold, what a d***) and at this point I was now wondering how much damage control I was going to have to do at the followup appointment. Meanwhile, Opac called me in the middle of the College President’s speech at the gala to complain about his pain and not knowing what to do. Really, I tried to be compassionate but for the love of God – could I not have ONE night without stress and worry?

And so it goes. The hangover I had morphed into some sort of viral thing and my gut was in knots for days, and I’m still not feeling totally normal.

Meanwhile, my uncle’s wife developed an aortic rupture and we were told she had a 20% chance of survival. So she is currently in hospital under heavy sedation, and missed her husband’s funeral.

That is all.

 

 

Destination San Fran – The Anti-Climax

There was exactly one flight out before the storm – the next morning, Monday, at 6:30 a.m. – with enough seats for us. The rest of the flights – particularly Wednesday – were already booked.

So, our trip cut short – the shortest trip I’ve ever taken to California – we missed our tour of Alcatraz (already purchased tickets and paid for) and never rode the trolley, never got close to the Golden Gate Bridge. I really, really wanted to walk the GG, since the steel for the bridge came from my hometown in PA. Those 3 activities topped my list for our trip, and I missed all three of them to fly home again at the crack of dawn to beat an effin snowstorm that should’ve happened two months ago. PSA #1 : Never, ever, plan the best stuff for last.

The cab we ordered to pick us up at the hotel arrived quite timely – and we later learned he hijacked us from the cab that was ordered. Todd and I decided to grab some breakfast at the terminal – this place was the bomb with made-to-order omelets – though I was in no position to eat anything but a bagel and a coffee. PSA #2 : Never, ever, eat Mexican the night before a 6-hour flight.

Todd ordered a hot chocolate with NO whipped cream. When he picked it up at the end of the line, it had whipped cream on it. See what I’m talking about? And what’s worse – he ordered a cinnamon roll and the girl bagged him a cinnamon muffin, which everyone knows are two entirely different things. So, while it happened to him again, I have to add that I ordered a blueberry muffin for later, and I didn’t open it up until we were airborne somewhere over Colorado and it was definitely not a blueberry muffin. I still don’t know what it was, but I ate it anyway.

We couldn’t get a direct flight so we had to fly into LA and catch another plane, and when we arrived we learned there was another flight leaving for Baltimore RIGHT NOW with 3 seats left if we wanted it. We took it. And of course it was a pain in the ass finding seats, and absolutely no overhead storage left so we had to check our carry-ons. I sat between a sweet elderly lady from Connecticut, and the young guy on my right kindly helped me pick up my pile of shit I spilled on the floor, and kept himself busy with games on his iPad. All appearances were it was going to be a nice easy flight.

And then Todd came up and invited me to switch with the woman seated next to him who’d offered. So I found myself sandwiched between my husband and this guy on the window seat who wasn’t much bigger than me but you’d think he was an NFL linebacker by the way he commandeered both armrests and sat with his knees further apart than a hooker in Alphabet City. He encroached on my personal space for nearly 5 hours and I haven’t wanted to punch somebody that bad since – two days ago.

We arrived in Baltimore in the afternoon, and had to wait for our carry-ons to come to the baggage carousel, which is like waiting for the dog to poo on a winter walk. And then we were directed to the wrong carousel, watching the same poor bags circling (which is positively maddening), until Todd looked over his shoulder and just happened to spot my carry-on on the carousel behind us. PSA #3 : Always use carry-on, and if you can’t – buy a really colorful bag that stands out.

The drive home wasn’t horrendous, but since Ex was sick with the flu, I had to drive all the way to his house to pick up Veruca, praying to beat the snow. Which, for those unfamiliar, is roughly two hours from BWI. So, after 13 and a half hours of traveling, I finally had V in the car and we drove home in the first flurries of winter storm Stella.

 

Destination: San Francisco, Day 2… Hey!

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Photo copyright TKA and The Tara Chronicles

I was wide awake at 5:30 a.m., and Todd and Jonathan left early for the conference at 6:30. It was still dark out. I stayed in bed, thinking I’d go back to sleep, but instead started reading the hotel’s guidebooks.

Not expecting the boys back before lunch, I took to Google maps to see exactly where we were and what was around us, contemplating what I would do with myself to fill the morning. Sure, plenty of shopping. My God, could I shop! But, alas, appearances are deceiving and I don’t have money to spend like that.

My plan was to go to the coffee shop down the street for pastry or a bagel, some fruit and yogurt, and then walk over to Old Navy and buy a cheap pair of sunglasses (I left mine at home). Suddenly, I heard somebody yell, Hey!

Hey! I heard it again. Hey! It was loud, and it was coming from the street outside my window, which – by the way – is good for nothing except keeping the birds out. Hey!

Curiosity got the best of me and I slid out of bed and opened the curtain to see what was going on. Hey! Across the street was a man loitering about 10 feet from the corner, yelling Hey! at every car passing and at people on the street.

Hey! Then all of sudden his pants are down and, oh….he’s going to urinate. Perfect. Hey! He turns back toward the street and he’s still yelling hey! at cars going by. With his pants down. He’s holding his penis, which is fairly impressive if I can see it from the fourth floor, and he’s shaking it around and yelling hey!

I’m fairly open-minded, but it was just too damn early in the morning for this. Not to mention the fact that I really wanted some coffee and there was no way in hell I was going out there while the Schlonger was out there. I don’t know when he was gone because there’s only so much penis a person can take before breakfast and I’d gone back to my reading. Eventually I showered and dressed just moments before Todd texted he was on his way back.

The three of us ventured out for food and walked several blocks in search of some “diner” they had seen from the cab and were trying to recall exactly where it was. We stopped at Old Navy for sunglasses and noticed a line forming outside the store that wrapped around the building. Somebody from the Golden State Warriors was scheduled to appear and sign autographs. I always wonder at people who stand in lines three-hundred people strong just for an autograph.

The weather – absolutely beautiful – and architecture juxtaposed with scores of homeless we passed. The smell of weed, legal in here, floated on the air with nauseating frequency. We checked out a handful of places on our way, but any worthwhile ones had ridiculous lines (it was Sunday, after all). We finally found Mel’s Drive-In – which is I guess what they had in mind – and were seated right away.

Todd has this luck with places when we eat out where something always happens to him. And only to him. I pointed it out, casually explaining to Jonathan that he’s a magnet for this shit. Todd protested, but I swear to God it happened several times on this trip and he couldn’t deny it. Case in point: #1 – the lettuce/tomato/pickle incident at John’s Grill the day before.

#2. His iced tea glass at Mel’s appeared to have something on it. And then his omelet wasn’t fully cooked. Everyone else’s food was perfect.

We passed a store called Good Vibrations with a poster illustrating the evolution of vibrators for each decade since the 1970s. The catchphrase: Creating a Buzz Since 1977. This cracked me up. Jonathan said he’d give me $20 to buy one and try to get it through airport security. I told you he was a man of few, but calculated words.

We walked back past Old Navy, the line now stretching two city blocks. We considered taking the trolley, but the line was as long as the day before. I suggested we save it for tomorrow, since we could take it to Fisherman’s Wharf to catch our Alcatraz tour.

We decided to take a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf anyway, and were surprised at the stark difference between environments – Union Square vs. Fisherman’s Wharf. No less people, but it felt much less humanly-chaotic. Opac called me while I was on the cable car, to update me on Veruca’s condition and to suggest that maybe he should skip school tomorrow since there’ll be a snow day on Tuesday anyway. I failed to see the logic in this and told him to forget it.

We walked around the waterfront and took pictures. My friend Dave, who lives out here, warned me to avoid touristy things, but it really wasn’t all that bad. I found a place called Hard Water, with a wall of whiskeys, bourbons, and single malts. Looked like a good place to stop to me, with only 4 people seated around a u-shaped bar; however, we pressed on.

Eventually we hopped a cable car back to Union Square, where Todd realized his cell phone had officially crapped out and lucky us – there was a T-Mobile store right there. So J and I sat down while Todd handled his phone situation, and Opac called me again. I was completely parched and dehydrated, so I stepped outside to see if there was anywhere nearby that might sell water. No dice. I called V to see how she was feeling – she only had a fever which left her very sleepy, but certainly NOT flu. Her dad did have the flu, and he actually joked that I know how he is when he’s sick (giant wuss on his deathbed) and I remarked he was lucky to have his wife, to which he simply said, ah, she just ignores me.

Anyway, we had plans for dinner with another colleague and his wife at 5 so we returned to the hotel to clean up. The boys took the elevator and made fun of me for taking the stairs. But I told you, I’m not dying on an elevator in San Francisco. Besides, I passed other people who chose to take the stairs, thus confirming my concerns.

We met them at their hotel and walked to Tropisueno, a Mexican restaurant with divine food and even better margaritas. The place was already bustling but the ambience lent intimacy and felt comfortable, not rushed. The conversation melted away from shop talk into personal stories and speculation about the impending snow storm on Tuesday.

Afterward, Jonathan and Rob grabbed some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and we continued walking. We passed the Disney Store and went in. There’s a lot of Beauty and the Beast stuff, which I love, though thank God I didn’t have money with me because I had just enough of a buzz to have bought stuff. There was a short lightsaber battle by the front door, and the cast member there showed me a secret Jedi handshake, which I’ve completely forgotten now. And that’s when our night abruptly ended, when J got the email that our Tuesday morning flight had been cancelled.

*Many of us are familiar with the slang, schlong, but have you heard of a schlort? Urban Dictionary defines schlong as a penis of fairly good length, so then it’s not difficult to guess what a schlort is.